Microsoft seeks e-commerce tax freeze from WTO

With the latest ministerial round of the World Trade Organisation negotiations happening in its own backyard later this month, Microsoft is pushing several issues it says will save American industries billions of dollars.

With the latest ministerial round of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations happening in its own backyard later this month, Microsoft is pushing for support for several issues the software giant says will save American industries billions of dollars.

In a teleconference yesterday, a Microsoft lawyer said the company is supporting efforts to permanently ban tariffs on electronic commerce, to enforce internationally agreed upon laws to battle software piracy, and to clarify tariffs for software.

"By the year 2002, the value of all worldwide e-commerce could approach $US500 billion," said Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel for international law. "And we don't want to see a rise in protectionism that would slow that value." International software sales will amount to billions of additional dollars and are equally sensitive to free trade issues, he said.

There is a good chance the WTO ministers may approve the measures proposed by Microsoft at their meeting, starting Nov. 29, Smith said.

The US House of Representatives has already passed a resolution calling on the Clinton administration to seek a permanent moratorium on e-commerce tariffs, and the administration plans to lobby the WTO to approve the measure. "I'm quite optimistic there is worldwide appreciation for the development of electronic commerce," Smith said.

The WTO should also endorse existing international intellectual property laws to discourage software piracy, Smith said. "Governments have to ensure that intellectual property rights are enforced and that cases are brought into courts and prosecuted," he added.

The problem of pirated software has drawn concern from a wide range of companies.

'Net auction houses such as eBay are looking for more developed antipiracy laws to keep software without proper copyright or trademarks away from their sites, said Jay Monahan, intellectual property counsel for eBay, today.

The WTO also needs to establish a standard for setting tariffs and duties on software, Microsoft's Smith said. Right now, software can be taxed as intellectual property or as the physical container it comes in, such as a CD-ROM, Smith said. Microsoft would prefer to have the tariff levied on the physical container, he added.

Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington, can be reached at +1-425-882-8080, or at http//www.microsoft.com/.

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